The Karaoke Saga

Sorry, this one’s more about computer stuff than actual singing. If you just want the answer to “how do I burn MP3+G files to a CD+G disc that I can use at a karaoke bar?” you should skip to the end. The answer lies there.

Karaoke is what gave me the confidence to audition for a band, and while I didn’t much like to do it when I was actually IN the band — it felt like doing a job for fun on the weekend — as long as it’s a novelty, I like going back and doing it now and then. When I fell hard for Jonathan Coulton I was thrilled to see he sold karaoke tracks for his stuff — the original masters, just with the vocals removed. I quickly bought about 25 tracks. Now all I had to do was get them from my PC to a CD that would play in the karaoke machines at my karaoke hangout, Bel Mateo Bowl.

There are several hurdles involved in what seems like it should be a pretty easy process. Among them: Convert the files into a format that will play as a CD+G disc; find a CD burner that can actually burn CD+G discs; then actually be able to test that disc to make sure it worked. I figured armed with the burning Swiss Army knift that is Nero, this would be no problem.

No. While Nero should have worked for me, it didn’t, or I didn’t use it correctly. Turns out that there is no dominant commercial solution to this problem, and much of the key software is created by tiny indepedent companies scattered around the globe. Also, much of it has not been updated since 2004. The one big solution I kept finding, Power CD+G Burner, didn’t work in trial mode. Other people said it worked great for them. I tried it on two computers with four completely drives between them. I gave it every opportunity. I even looked on the Mac side, figuring everything is easier on Mac, but based on the forums, it’s like Apple users have never heard of karaoke before. “Is that on iTunes?” Sigh.

So, step one, I had to combine the MP3/CDG file tandems into a single BIN file (with a matching CUE) — more or less building the structure of a CD on my hard drive, then burning it in one shot. I found some sketchy-looking program with the catchy title of MP3+G Tools 4 that purported to do that conversion, and it was free. I got my BIN and burned it. It didn’t work…but I didn’t find out unilt I got to the bowling alley and tried to sing “I Crush Everything.” Oof. I gave up.

I came back to it again thinking there had to be a way. My BIN/CUE files were fine, two discs’ worth of songs (in alphabetical order — but you don’t sing karaoke albums, so who cares) ready to go, but was it my disc? My burner? My computer? I started testing all kinds of software and drives in different combinations, killing about 12 discs in the process. Ultimately I found Alcohol 120% did the trick; it actually has a karaoke CD+G burning mode.

Also, of the four drives at my disposal (including Kat’s fancy new dual-layer DVD external drive), only one worked. My PC’s secondary optical drive is a rather old IDE-based DVD burner — TDK DVDRW880N — which just happens to be one of the handful of drives that not only reads the CD+G layer, but writes it as well. It’s the writing that’s the tough part, it turns out. And it wouldn’t write at higher speeds; I’m livin’ large writing at 4x. I should be done Sunday.

I know they work because I hooked up our crappy little IKTV karaoke player, which we got at Fry’s ages ago. It is lousy, but I know that if the discs play on this thing — and the professional discs we’ve bought do — then they’ll play anywhere. So I’m listening to instrumental versions of “When You Go” and “I’m Your Moon” in the background as I type this. And now that I finally have it running, I’m burning a few copies for friends (which, yes, is perfectly legal for JoCo’s music, thanks to the Creative Commons license — I intend to follow his example with the songs I write).

So…if you want to convert MP3/CDG files to actual playable discs: Make sure your drive actually supports writing (not just reading) the CD+G layer, because that’s the tricky bit. Then use MP3+G Tools 4 to make BIN/CUE files and Alcohol 120% in its Karaoke mode to burn. You’ll skip all the hassle I went through, and isn’t benefitting from other people’s suffering what the internet is all about?

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